Have you ever wondered what the judge was writing down on her clipboard at a Hunter show?  At a Dressage show, you receive this “report card” to take home but at the H/J shows, the judge’s notes are a mystery.  I had the opportunity to sit down with Judi Masson from Queensville, Ontario to learn what a H/J judge is looking for when she is judging a show and what she is writing down.  Judi is a certified H/J judge with Equine Canada.  She holds judging cards for:  Hunter Hack, Hunt Seat Equitation, Hunter and Jumper.  The judging of the Jumper classes seems pretty straightforward:  don’t knock the rails down and best time wins.  But what about the Hunter classes?  What is the judge really looking for?  In one word:  “Movement”.  She bases her ranking on the over-all impression of the ride.  She looks for the rider who uses the least interference while showing off the horse to its optimum ability.

 At a Hunter show, the over fences classes occur before the flat classes.  Here is the method that Judi (and other judges) use when assessing an over fences class:  the first horse into the ring receives a numeric score and all the other horses are compared to that first horse and assigned a numeric score accordingly (higher or lower).  She also records comments about each horse to differentiate him from the others.  In a class of 30 horses with 15 of them being chestnut, this can be challenging.  She will continue this rating for each horse as they leave the ring.  If the first horse into the ring was the strongest horse and he was assigned a score of 60, then 60 ends up being the highest score.  The value of the score does not indicate anything other than the ranking of the horse and rider in that particular group.  At the end of the class, the scores are compared and ribbons are awarded.

 After the over fences classes are complete, the horses are judged “on the flat” and are all in the show ring at the same time.  They walk, trot, canter and halt at the judge’s instruction.  The judges have a pretty good idea about what to expect from each horse as they have just observed each one in the previous classes.  Again, it is all about the movement of the horse.  Judi said it is interesting to see how the horses compare against each other.  Decisions are generally made quite quickly about the ranking of the group.  A horse and rider can easily “blow it” if they pick up the wrong canter lead, or break from a canter into a trot or even worse throw out a buck in the corner.  There is no instant replay in a horse show and a judge cannot see every indiscretion.  But Judi Masson, who is a retired high school teacher, says that she typically does not miss much.

 In the Pleasure class, Judi described how she is looking for “the horse that I would like to ride”.  In the Road Hack class, a horse that can really move out with a strong trot and hand gallop is desired.  For the Hunter Under Saddle class, a nice rocking canter and good trot is the ideal movement.

 Typically Hunters have been thoroughbreds and lighter warmblood breeds.  The thoroughbreds “have their own motor” and some have the desired hunter movement.  The warmbloods typically have better movement but can be more of a challenge to keep moving forward.  Judi said that she does not have a bias against either type of horse.  She does like to see uniquely coloured horses like paints, palominos and duns as they stand out in a field of bays and chestnuts.  These colours often occur in the western breeds (like Quarter Horses), which do not have the hunter movement.  However, we are starting to see warmbloods that combine both the fancy colour and the desired movement.

 Over all, the horses are judged on movement and riders are judged on how little they interfere while showing the horse’s best movement.  It makes me think of a George Morris quote:  “Do as little as possible but as much as necessary.”

Over all, the horses are judged on movement and riders are judged on how little they interfere while showing the horse’s best movement.  It makes me think of a George Morris quote:  “Do as little as possible but as much as necessary.”



5 Tips for Showing in the Hunters (from Judi Masson):

  • In the over fences classes, if your horse does not have a strong trot, start at a canter not a trot. Then go jump your course. This will help to highlight your horse’s strength not weakness.
  • Always have a clean, well-groomed horse. If you are showing at a schooling show and are not a talented braider, do not braid. Messy braids look worse than no braids at all. If you are showing at a recognized show and you are not a talented braider, hire a professional to braid for you.
  • Tuck your hair up under your helmet. A neat and tidy appearance is important to making a positive impression with the judge.
  • Your boots are at the eye-level of the judge. Make sure somebody wipes your boots once you are mounted.
  • Know the rules. This includes showing in the correct division and using the correct tack. Judges hate to see bridles that have running martingale stoppers left on the reins. Running martingales are not allowed. Also, use the correct saddle pad (contoured with no writing).


May we recommend the Red Scarf Equestrian shoe shine kit.  Everything you need to keep your boots shiny for the show-ring.  It is a nice little kit to add to your show trunk.  Click here 




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